The rise in popularity of electric bicycles has been as great, if not greater, than that of electric vehicles. Thanks to the pandemic, many people have wanted to explore ways of getting around that were less likely to place them in close quarters with other potentially infectious humans. But there is a wide range of prices between basic electric bikes and premium options. I spoke to US e-bike maker Bird’s director of vehicles, Scott Rushforth, about how his company differentiates its e-bikes with sophisticated battery management, inspired by electric cars, giving them extra appeal as a device.
Much of the variation in the price of electric bikes is due to differences related to conventional bikes, such as better braking systems, higher quality gears, lighter materials used in construction, and (with mountain bikes) gear settings. more sophisticated suspension. But the electrified part can also vary a lot. Although electric bikes seem like simple devices, they have potential for improvement with connected technology similar to passenger cars. Bird is focusing his developments in this area.
My conversation with Rushforth was timed to coincide with Bird’s arrival in the UK, which in itself shows how the market is maturing. The event took place at the London Transport Museum, with Paul Scully MP as a special guest. Rushforth explained that his company was applying technology derived from the automotive industry to electric bicycles. A key inspiration was battery technology in electric vehicles. While most electric bikes have extremely passive battery management, Bird actively monitors the cells in its packs to rebalance them during charge and discharge, for optimal power delivery and lifespan. This technology continues to evolve and allows the Bird 2 and 3 to have a lifespan of three years, but Rushforth claims that the Bird 4 will offer five years, much longer than the average mobile phone.
Bird also claims that their batteries’ active thermal management and heat sinks mean they can cope with differences in ambient temperatures better than other brands. Therefore, there will be less variability in performance under cold winter and hot summer conditions. The company doesn’t make its own batteries, but it does have its own laboratory and testing equipment, to ensure its technology is as optimized as possible.
Bird’s electric bikes also use regeneration, so they can recover energy through electric motor-based braking. This can add 5-10% to the range of the e-bike, according to Rushforth, and will be particularly beneficial if your ride is going downhill. Many electric bikes don’t offer regenerative braking, but Bird claims it only costs $5-7 to add it, so it’s money well spent.
Bird bikes are connected vehicles with built-in GPS, which can help track them if they’re stolen, but is also essential if the bikes are used through a commercial sharing service. The u-blox positioning system is used, which can provide locations with an accuracy of up to 10 cm. Bird has been integrating connectivity since 2017. E-bikes effectively act as “Internet of Things” devices that send information back for optimization and analysis. This includes monitoring batteries 50 times per second across parameters including temperature, voltage, total power output and input, and even humidity.
According to Rushforth, Bird bikes not only share information with a centralized server, but also with other nearby Bird bikes. However, the data is sent with “end-to-end encryption” like messaging services like WhatsApp or Telegram, so there should be no concern that malicious parties could hack the transmission. From a user perspective, this allows Bird owners to remotely monitor their electric bikes via a smartphone app, another similarity to more recent cars.
Although an EV car is essentially a replacement for a fossil fuel car, and performs basically the same job, an electric bike isn’t exactly the straight-line alternative. If you already happily cycle to shops, work, and other regular destinations, an electric bike probably isn’t for you. You’re already keeping fit, saving the planet, and hopefully having fun with sports in the process.
An electric bike is for people who aren’t comfortable with a non-electric bike because they worry about getting too tired, sweating too much, or even not being able to fully complete a trip due to steep hills. Of course, cycling enthusiasts can also enjoy electric bicycles, but their most important role is to let more people feel that they can ride a bicycle instead of taking other forms of transportation, such as a car, even a bus or a train. .
But adding connected features to an electric bike also adds another dimension. There is already a certain type of cyclist who enjoys their bike as a gadget, especially when it comes to customizing individual components. The connected electric bike takes advantage of that by allowing the ability to add software features, much in the same way that connected cars now have smartphone-style appeal. It’s yet another reason to get out on two wheels and ride.